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UK Exclusive - we ride the Santa Cruz V10

UK Exclusive - we ride the Santa Cruz V10

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V10smThere’s been a lot of interest in the development of Virtual Pivot Point suspension systems originally developed by Outland but now bought and evolved by Santa Cruz (www.santacruzbikes.com) and Intense for the last two years. Now we can tell you what the Santa Cruz V10 is like to ride.

Before we go any further though, two things. The bikes pictured here are still prototypes, they might be damn close to production designs, one of them might even turn to be THE production design, but for now they’re prototypes. Second, we didn’t get a whole lot of time on the bike before it started getting dark, and we didn’t get to plummet down Ben Nevis on it, which is probably one of the few places you’ll get maximum use out of nearly a foot of rear wheel travel. We did give it as sound a thrashing as possible though, including several runs over the carcass of an old moped someone had thoughtfully left in the bottom of a bombhole.

Theory?

Frame1smBy using a rear triangle mounted on two linkages, the axle path can be changed to provide any alignment you want. Santa Cruz use a very gentle ‘S’ bend path, (though it’s near as dammit straight). The idea is that when set for the correct sag – 3.75 inches (yes folks, it sags more than a lot of XC bikes move altogether) – the axle is at the nearest point to the bottom bracket.

As it moves further into the travel and the axle path moves slightly away from the BB, there’s a very slight resistance from the chain ‘growing’. This helps to keep the bike at level at it’s Frame2smoptimum sag for stable sprinting. As it passes through the 5″ travel point the axle path curves back slightly inwards for maximum impact absorption.

When the bike is unweighted the axle path again moves slightly away from the BB, which helps to pull the suspension back to the sweet spot as you apply power, and also increases it’s small bump smoothness.

Hardware?

Frame3smSanta are using a new 6066 material in the front end which consists of a conventional top and down tube, and a big CNC machined girder effect, boomerang shaped ‘seat tube’ which straddles the rear shock set up and anchors both linkages. The front ends we saw had differing gusset set ups so we won’t bother going into detail. The rear sub triangle is constructed from 1″ square section aluminium for the stays, with big CNC front member, wishbone bridges and dropout carriers. The dropouts themselves are big black CNC blocks which are available as QR or 14mm thru axle units complete with Hadley hub and floating brake arm. As usual for Santa Cruz, the gear hanger isn’t replaceable, but we can’t see it going anywhere anyway.

The floating disc arm anchors on the dropout at the brake end and the upper linkage at the far end. As it follows the axle path, they use a lightweight tube, and a two point setting on the linkage allows riders to run a completely floating disc (with no effect on the suspension) or a brake that squats the rear end for better stopping traction in loose conditions. The linkages themselves are broad CNC sections running on sealed cartridge bearings (no stiction and easily replaceable after the ravages of a typical British season). Thinking in hour hand angles here (it seemed the easiest way to do it) the upper linkages start their stroke from the 5.45 position, swinging through 5 O’clock at optimum sag before hitting full travel at around 4.00.

The lower linkage starts at around 7 o’clock and ends up at not much after 8. Keeping the movement within this narrow vertical plane should also slightly reduce the lateral leverage on the linkages for a stiffer rear end. Tweakers should note there is no travel, geometry or wheel base adjustment.

V10linksmHowever, sitting on the lower linkage is the equally new and exciting Progressive Suspension Fifth Element shock. Using a titanium coil spring keeps weight down, near that of an air shock, but the really clever aspect is the massive amount of adjustment. Preload from the coil spring, rebound damping, compression damping – separately adjustable for the initial and final phases of the stroke, plus an adjustable piggy back air chamber section. Adjusting air pressure creates more or less preload, while adjusting the chamber volume increases or decreases the progressiveness of the shock stroke – clever huh!

To put all this in context the rest of the bike was a mix of XTR, Race Face, Hope, Sun and Titec components rolling on big sticky Intense tyres. The forks are Santa Cruz specific 2002 Boxxers with ultra slippery Ti-Nitride coated stanchions.

Ride?

So how did all this hype and theory actually behave on the trail? A stumpy 43lb downhill bike on Blu Tak tyres was never going to fly up the hill to the park, but what immediately strikes you is the way it pedals. Stamping about out of the saddle sees the suspension swinging up and down in time with rider weight, but stand up or sit down and there is no perceptible  feedback at all through the pedals. Whether it was little road ripples or kerbs we added to into the route we just cranked away totally oblivious to what the wheels were rolling over.

V10rearsmThen we got to the park and slipped the leash. As soon as a slight downhill removes the inertia of the bike mass, acceleration is astonishing. None of the squat that plagues fully active bikes, but none of the loss of chatter absorption you get from higher pivot rigs. You apply the power and the suspension just lays it into the ground like hot butter. Pedalling through sequential step downs there is absolutely no disturbance of pedalling whether the suspension is at full travel in the base of the dip or nearly topped out at the lip. We were even pedalling straight through the moped carcass after a couple of runs.

OK so it’s a downhill bike, enough about pedalling. All the big blunt things and small chatter alike just dissapears into the shock returning to the sweet sag spot before you even noticed you should have felt something. Landings and G-out bombhole compressions are dealt with equally easily, with potential to cope with really huge stuff if you increase the progressiveness and end stroke compression damping on the shock. The phrase ‘Totally floated’ gets used far too much in bike reviews, but if we had to pick a bike to act as a dictionary definition this is the beast. Never have we felt more like we were just watching the often disturbing view from the bars from the comfort of an armchair.

The bike was rigged to float the rear disc and we had no trouble braking hard through choppy sections and no hint of the front forcing down / rear coming up. If you want to rig up squat for looser conditions then the brake arm can be adjusted to suit.

Luckily for us, this uninterrupted suspension action combined with the huge amount of negative travel also means that cornering traction is huge even on ‘wet leaf over rock’ off camber sections that we were fully expecting to leave skin samples on.

The big back end and floated disc also keeps rear end slides super accurate and crisp, a quick jab of the brake whipping the back end out and round tight sections in fine Dukes of Hazzard style. The instant pedal pick up means you’re not having to really dig yourself out of slow sections either so you’ll be covering the faster bits a whole lot quicker.

The only aspect we’d note is that because of the lack of pedal feedback you can’t kick down the back end for traction like a high pivot bike, which meant the back wheel would occasionally spin on climbs like the old parallel action Schwinn’s used to. We’re prepared to accept a flurry of blows for even talking about the climbing performance of a 43lb bike, though the fact we rode back up to the top of every section rather than pushing says a lot
about how well the V10 pedals. We never had any power application problems
on the flat or downslope though, even without tweaking all the many shock adjustments.

So in short?

Ridiculously succulent travel and traction that refused to even get slightly unsettled when we were riding it as hard as we could, coupled with instant drive and pick up wherever you are in the stroke. We don’t generally ride rigs this big purely because the invincible long travel amusement wears off very quickly on slopes of less than 1 in 2 but the V10 was an absolute blast even on flat and barely downhill sections. We simply haven’t ridden anything
near as sharp with this much travel, and the V10 genuinely has power responses that would shame many XC bikes.OK I’m convinced. Where, how much and when? The V10 will be available from Jungle (0113 0113 2937703) dealers all round the country from February. £2300 will get you a frame with bolt thru Hadley hub, £1850 will get you a QR version (no hub). The XC Blur – which we are now absolutely gagging to have a go on – will hopefully arrive for summer, priced at £1299 painted, £1399 anodised. You can order either (or both !!!!) of them now.

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